Home Entertainment ‘Soul’ Review: Pixar’s 2020 Newest Addition Ventures to the less charted Metaphysical

‘Soul’ Review: Pixar’s 2020 Newest Addition Ventures to the less charted Metaphysical

Pixar hasn’t lost its mojo yet! That magic is still there, the magic that makes Pixar feel Pixar. Some might have said that the Golden Age of this animation studio had long passed, but who knows if it is really over or they just lay low. It is a fact that most animation studios are no longer catching up to Pixar because unlike before, other animation studios are now on par with them. Some even have produced films better than the ones produced by Pixar in that same year, but regardless, Pixar still has an edge. Pixar has already mastered computer animation; they led the pack for so many years. And most importantly, they have that story-telling formula, that lets the audience feel the magic. And these are enough reasons for you and your family to watch their 2020 animated film ‘Soul’. 

‘Soul’ is a film that ventures to a topic that far exceeds any prior Pixar movie in terms of subject matter. Pixar already showed the story of relationships (Up), emotions (Inside Out), life or mortality (Coco), but not yet the story of transcendence. And ‘Soul’ is that one that talks about it, as it attempted to show the metaphysical. It is a story that has enough depth and a sense of adventure, and thus, it is something worth seeing. It lacks that theatrical singing but it is not devoid of music as the main character is a musician that is very fond of jazz. It also has those comedic features (through those almost non-sensical actions) that would surely make anyone laugh, and those dramatic aspects that would definitely stir something inside. 

Soul’s topic might come as somewhat complicated, but Pixar amazingly presented it in a manner that the whole family would understand and totally enjoy. It is a film that would catch the attention of both the children and the adults, in short, a good family movie.  It’s not soul food but it has those same effects albeit with added benefits. So, if you are looking for something fun, meaningful, something that would teach values that are presented in a less serious way, then, Soul is for you. So, set up the living room, prepare the snacks, and together with your family, enjoy this newest milestone in Pixar’s history.

The Story

‘Soul’ is the story of Joe Gardner, a grown man jazz pianist who is waiting for his big music break which appears rather bleak. He is a part-time band teacher who was promoted to become a full-time part of the school. And yet he hesitated, as teaching is not his passion, but music.  But in a turn of life, his big break no longer seems a dream, he received a call from his previous student Curly, who asked him if he wants to play along with Dorothea Williams. Dorothea is a jazz legend and so Joe said yes. Dorothea is skeptical of Joe, but when he played the piano and go with a trance-state, her doubts faded and she approved him. Everything is slowly falling to their proper places if not for Joe falling in an open manhole. When Joe opened his eyes, he was just there, in the path towards the great beyond where newly departed souls go.  But Joe was not ready for it, he wants his dreams, and so he struggled and fell to the ‘Great Before’. In here where new souls stay before going to Earth, he met soul #22. Assuming the identity of a mentor, Joe needed to help 22 find her (there seems to be no gender in there, but since her voice is female then we’ll assume 22 is a female) spark in addition with him finding a way to go back to his body. 

The Production:

Soul’ is an American-computer animated fantasy comedy-drama film that was produced by the world acclaimed Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by another big name in the animated film industry, Walt Disney Pictures. It is yet another Pixar movie that is worthy of praise and accolades. And this is because the team and people behind it are a powerhouse that already proved themselves individually and as a team time and time again. 

If you know and watched Inside Out in 2015, then you may probably know how great that movie was, and the director behind is the same man who directed Soul. Soul is directed by Pete Docter with Kemp Powers as the co-director. Docter and Powers were joined by Mike Jones in writing the screenplay of the movie. The jazz taste and music in the film were not out of a whim, the producers that include Dana Murray consulted different jazz musicians in creating the musical sequences and score of the film. 

This animated film that runs for 100 minutes or 1 hour and 40 minutes stars the voices of Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner with Ramone Hamilton voicing the young Joe, Tina Frey as 22, Graham Norton as Moonwind the spiritual sign twirler, Rachel House as Terry the soul counter of the Great Beyond, and Phylicia Rashad as Libba Gardner the mother of Joe who works as a seamstress. The film also features the voices of Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, and Zenobia Shroff as the 5 councilors all named Jerry in the Great Before, Donnel Rawlings as Joe’s Barber, Questlove as Curley, and Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams.

The Critique:

“Soul” is proof that Pixar is still part of the game, and it is rather big, because contrary to the beliefs of some, this studio is still producing breath-taking, mind-boggling, and emotion-steering animated films. This behemoth of the animation industry saw its fair share of ups and downs, and their 2020 animation film that deals with existence, meaning, the thing after death is yet another up for them.

The movies before the release of this one might be lacking on one aspect or the other, or rather not on par with their earlier and more popular works because apparently, consistency is a hard thing to achieve, but this 2020 animated film could be a make-up for those.  Certainly, Pixar hasn’t lost its touch yet, they still have some cards on their sleeves that could give the audience some wow, that same excitement and emotion they felt when they watched Toy Story, or Up, or Monster Inc. And they just revealed one of those cards in the showing of “Soul”. 

It is rare for any children’s film to deal with topics that are more serious and goes beyond, but that was what Soul did. This film brought a topic that is less shown, not because it is taboo, but because that particular topic is hard to understand. It is very seldom that people would come across metaphysical dialogues unless they are in a theological or ethical class, and Soul took the initiative to make people think again about those lingering questions of existence, life, and meaning. 

The theme per se is not rare as Pixar’s Coco also dealt with the afterlife, but what sets apart the two is the existential and philosophical questions in ‘Soul’.  “Why do I exist?”, “what is living?”, “what is the meaning of life?”, these questions are not new to everyone because at some point we asked these ourselves, and Soul revisited these and tried to answer some of them. It is rather brave for this film to venture to a less charted territory, and apparently, that venture turned great.

The story may appear serious and it really is when viewed based on the topic, but it was actually light, especially the way Pixar told it. When watching it, 36 minutes after the beginning you might actually start laughing as 22 was transferred to Joe’s body, and Joe to a cat named Mr. Mittens. The dialogues and actions on that scene were funny as a typical animated film for kids. The actions of the characters are also comedic like when 22 (in Joe’s body) gave a piece of her donut or bread to a musician (imitating a person who gave money) who was performing in the subway. 

The story is also palatable, the way Joe’s life was depicted vis-a-vis his view of it as shown when he and 22 went to a room that shows the life of the mentors was great as it showed how contradictory his view is to reality. The ‘underlying’ story of 22 on the other hand when looked upon is also very entertaining but at the same time heartbreaking. It is entertaining in the sense that it is like an adventure for her as everything is her first, first pizza, first lollipop, first donut, etc. But as she is slowly diving into her meaning of life, while she was already having an interest in finding her spark, Joe’s dream interfered because it was their goal in the first place. It is heartbreaking to witness the internal struggle on the part of 22, of whether her feelings are true for herself or she just felt those feelings about life because she’s in Joe’s body. The two stories, one for Joe and another for 22 showed two different perspectives. The film showed what life is for someone who is just starting to see it, and another for someone who already lived it. The simultaneous discussion of these stories created a deeper thought on the part of the audience as they sympathize with a character who still chases his dream and a character who is just starting to create her meaning. 

The characters and character development in the story are also commendable. For one, this animated film is the first for Pixar where an African-American served as the lead character. It is a departure from the stereotypes where members of the black community are shown as a side or supporting characters only. This, therefore, is a big thumbs up for the representation of the Minority Communities especially, for the African-American and Black communities. The character developments of the protagonists especially 22 are likewise amazing as they clearly showed change and transition.

When it comes to animation, nothing could be said about this movie. Pixar is an authority in animation and this film manifested that authority with the settings, lightings, graphics, visual effects, and character designs. Everything is good, and the way the actors voiced the characters was commendable, and the integration of all these features created something pleasing for the eyes, ears, heart, and soul. 

The Lesson

Soul’s dealing with the metaphysical gave some concepts that are important but not frequently talked about. Soul gave the lesson that life in itself is a blessing. The mere fact that someone is alive is worth celebrating as he/she can still do what he/she loves to do. It is a movie that tells that success is subjective, and it is not the only thing that matters. Dreams are important, but while chasing those dreams, people should not let them define themselves and become the sole reason for their existence, because their dreams are not the meaning of life. Soul gives us the lesson that little things matter, that happiness is not confined to the achievement of what you dreamed of. Life should be enjoyed, there are some restrictions, but for the most part, you are free, so appreciate those little things too, because all of these things contribute something to your own meaning of life. Life is not about your purpose, it is about your happiness, the way you’re living it. So, when you looked back to your life when you are already dead or on your deathbed, you will not see that you lived a plain, sad, and boring life. Instead, you will see that you live your life to the fullest, you made a difference, and most importantly, you lived a happy life that was not defined by success but by happiness. 

Conclusion

Soul is an animated film that brings a message about life, the way to view it, the reason to appreciate it. The subject is serious but as proof of Pixar’s expertise, they were able to show this more lightly in an animated film that viewers of all ages would surely enjoy. But parents should still accompany their children while watching this to better explain some concepts. The lessons in this movie are worthy for children to pick as it gives valuable existential realizations that could make their life happier. Live, be happy, and together with your family, watch this rare and yet amazing movie. 

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